I used my eyes to see

My name is Monica Ubianuju Nwannakwe. 1957 [ I was born], in Awkuzu [in Anambra State, Nigeria]. [I was with my mother when the war started]. I am the only one [no siblings].

Monica Ubianuju Nwannakwe remembers the Nigerian-Biafran War. Photo by Chika Oduah

I don’t know my father). She [my mother] was selling fish. I lived with my mom. She was trading. I did not know anything about that thing [the war.]

Their legs were swollen

Yes, I heard sounds [of warfare]. Shelling was falling, and even rockets in our place. We use to run and hide under trees to take cover. We use to run. When rocket sounds, people show us and we run behind the house. We ran away, me and my mom. We ran to Nsugbe [nearby town in Anambra State]. It was the elder brother to my mum’s place that we ran to and he built us a small house that we were staying. We use to go for job. My mom was selling fish. Everyday, we go out. We were not doing anything. Everyday, we go out to Nsugbe to look for something and be doing instead of just staying like that.

They [soldiers] did not get to Nsugbe.

Those that suffered from kwashiorkor were much. They were going around and begging for food…people were helping them. Their legs were swollen, even their faces and their body. Both children and grown up ones. Yes, people died. But I did not see them with my eyes. I only heard people talking about those that died.

We use to eat well. It was only skin rashes that disturbed me that time. There was nothing [to remove the rashes]. We used to treat it only with Hausa soap that we used to bathe. [My hair fell out]. It was the kwalikwata [an Igbo adaptation of the Hausa word kwarkwata or kwarikwata, which connotes lice or bedbugs] we suffered and [jigger, a parasitic insect].

Monica Ubianuju Nwannakwe. Photo by Chika Oduah

Both of them are different. Kwalikwata is different. Jigger is different. [We suffered from both.]

They [the rashes on our skin] just started coming out like that and we were still using our heads to carry loads. We were plenty [with the rashes].

[I never got sick during the war]. It was just those rashes that came out of my body.

[I would see Biafran soldiers]. Anytime they are passing, we see them. I don’t know [where they would be going to.] Most of them use to come to the market and arrest people [for conscription]. They wore khaki uniform. Everybody will run, men and women.

I did not ask [my mother to tell me what was going on]. I used my eyes to see. People would talk of how the war started from the North and then got to this place.

I would dream of my sister

I never thought about death. The only time I thought of it was when we finished coming back and my sister died. After her death, I became disturbed.

[In the beginning when you asked me if I had any siblings], I thought you were asking me about now. I had siblings, both younger and older. It was later, after the war that they died. By then, I was getting the shock of their death. We were just three when we ran away. But when we got there, the younger one died and when we came back home, two died. It was the youngest one [sister] that died during the war.

My elder sister died in 1971. The one I am older than died in 1988. My daughter Ijeoma was born in 1975 and the other one, died 1984.

Before the war, I wasn’t going to school. My mom didn’t have money to pay for our education. It was when we grew up that some of us went to school.

She said she did not go to school that time. it is later, after the war that she started.

I use to cry [during the war]… When we came back [to our house], I was always crying. I could not explain why. It was when we came back that I would dream of my sister.

How I got to know that the war was over was that we were at the Orom market where we went to sell fish and then we heard that they have seized fire. People from Orom started coming back and they were jubilating and we knew that war has ended and we came back [to Awkuzu]…we joined them in singing.

My mother never got sick during the war. The Caritas relief workers gave us stockfish.

How we got the relief was that we came back from the war and they were bringing them to one Clement Nwankwo, both milk, stockfish and we went to collect some [including Gabon rice].

People were dying.

I heard that Nigerian soldiers were taking girls away, but I was not grown up then, [so I wasn’t at risk of being taken]…they did not capture any of my people.

When we came back from war, the Hausas [Nigerian soldiers from the Northern region who fought in Biafra, also known as, Eastern Nigeria] camped in St. James Anglican Church and we were going there to sell water to them. We were naked, with small pants. When they see grown up ladies, they carry them inside the house.

We did have it so bad during the war because we were not hungry. My grandfather was always going to the river to get us fish. We would hide in the bush. We only came out when everything [shelling] stopped.

Monica Ubianuju Nwannakwe. Photo by Chika Oduah

Each time they fired bullets, because plane was always flying in the sky, we look for where there is roof so we can hide ourselves.

Were we talking about the fear of animal or the fear of the war? [We didn’t think about snakes in the bush. We just had to hide there to avoid the shelling.]

Sometimes, we just hear people say they have thrown shelling in somebody’s house.

I am not in support of anyone calling for Biafra today.


*This interview was conducted by Chika Oduah in Monica Nwannakwe’s home in Anambra State, Nigeria

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